Regional industry: How Wide Bay Burnett loses and wins

The Wide Bay Burnett region about three hours’ drive north of Brisbane has mastered the art of keeping skilled workers after industries shut by gaining new employers. It is also trying to recruit people, including students and grey nomads, to help industry and farmers deal with shortages due to Covid border closures.

Its city of Maryborough has lost its MSF Sugar mill and about 75 jobs this year after 126 years of operation but it is keeping its Downer train manufacturer and gaining a defence artillery-shell factory being built by a partnership between Germany’s Rheinmetall and Brisbane small-arms company NIOA.

MSF Sugar was forced to shut its mill at Maryborough by a broad decline in the sugar industry and falling cane supply in that region – but one reason for that was Rural Funds Management’s purchase of 5409 ha of MSF Sugar’s cane land for planting with lucrative macadamia nuts.

The director of regional development for Wide Bay Burnett, Scott Rowe, says the mill closure “could have knocked the confidence out of the region. But the munitions facility, the venture with Rheinmetall, has been a really positive thing and gained national and international interest.’’

Rowe, who manages the local agency of Regional Development Australia, says the majority of mill workers were picked up not only by local manufacturers but also the munitions facility.

“Our region also has three major meatworks, and the Swickers Kingaroy Bacon Factory is the largest pork-processing facility in the southern hemisphere.’’

Maryborough currently has the lowest rental vacancies in Queensland, and our meatworks are having to buy up houses to try to attract and retain workers, he says.

“We are also the largest softwood producer in Queensland and our timber workers are putting in 24/7 just to keep up.’’

The region, which includes Bundaberg, Kingaroy and Hervey Bay, already has a diverse economy with health care and social assistance the highest employer so in a way Covid helped keep jobs, Rowe says.

“Agriculture, food and beverage manufacturing have really held on. But tourism, hospitality, retail – like everywhere else – have been knocked around,” he says.

“Water will always be the greatest issue for regional Queensland, but workforce is probably No.2 at the moment.

“Our citrus crops have only been picked once instead of twice this season due to the shortage; workforce is a real problem.

“An aircraft manufacturer in Hervey Bay is trying to get people in from overseas. The Kingfisher Bay Resort on Fraser Island is operating at 70 per cent capacity due to an inability to attract workforce.

“We’re trying to close the gap by putting in regional jobs committees that are working with industry, and helping forecast what they’re going to require in skilled labour. TAFEs and training centres and universities are collaborating to try to close that gap.

“We’re even trying to get school kids to get friends together in holidays and pick fruit, and getting grey nomads up and into caravan parks and put a bit of jingle in their pocket to help with the [farm] pick. They’re trying everything they can but we need those overseas workers and tourists back.’’

Grower Pricing Update – August 2021

Raw sugar prices spent the majority of August rallying higher as the ever-deteriorating Centre South Brazil crop whipped the market into a bullish frenzy. 

At the time of writing, the October 2021 ICE 11 contract had traded from its monthly low of 17.74 USc/lb up to a high of 20.37 USc/lb, breaking the 20 USc/lb level for the first time since February 2017. 

This sparked a fresh rush of grower pricing activity, with up to $610/tonne gross actual and $545/tonne gross actual achieved in the 2021 and 2022 Target Price Contracts respectively.

Click here to read our full Grower Pricing Update.

QSL welcomes new Independent Director

Former auditor and partner at Ernst and Young, Mark Hayward (right), will join the QSL Board from 1 September 2021 as an Independent Director.

Mr Hayward’s appointment has been made in preparation for the retirement of QSL’s current Chairman Guy Cowan, who will step down after 14 years on the board at the conclusion of his current term on 31 December 2023.

Mr Cowan said the appointment had been made prior to his departure to support a smooth transition.

“QSL has a small but effective board which for some time has operated with one less director than allowed for under our constitution,” Mr Cowan said.

“This has enabled us to minimise interruption and leverage a valuable additional resource around the board table during the handover process.

“Mark has a similar skill set to me and as such will take over as Chair of the Audit and Risk Committee following our September meeting, as well as sitting on the Trading Risk, and People and Remuneration Committees.”

Mr Hayward was a partner at global corporate advisory firm Ernst & Young for 31 years until 30 June 2020 and during this time served as auditor and adviser for companies with activities throughout Australia, Asia, the Middle East, Canada, the USA and South America. 

He has both international and domestic experience in numerous industry sectors, including agribusiness, where he has worked with the sugar, cotton and beef sectors.

In addition to his role on the QSL Board, Mr Hayward is a director of gas and oil exploration company Blue Energy Limited.

Under its constitution, the QSL Board can have a maximum of four Independent Directors. These directors serve three-year terms and are appointed by a Board Selection Committee comprised of four members, two of which are elected by QSL’s Mill Owner Members and two elected by QSL’s Grower Representative Members.

Sunshine Coast distillery mix things up with sugarcane

In a mixture of Queensland firsts, Woombye company, Cavu Distilling, are using sugarcane to create two new spirits.

Launching later this year, their Original Cane product, under their Sunshine & Sons brand, will use locally sourced sugarcane, Oakes & Sons farm, to create a sweet fermented sugarcane spirit.

The Original Cane spirit is perfect for tropical cocktails, distilled sugarcane spirits are commonly found in the bustling nightclubs of Brazil, known as Cachaa – the country’s national spirit.

And they’re also joining Queensland’s competitive rum market, becoming the state’s third largest rum producer behind Bundy and Beenleigh Rum.

Considerably smaller than the aforementioned, their rum comes with a point of difference; it is Australia’s first and only organic rum.

Branded separately as Nil Desperandum – Latin for do not despair – the rum’s organic molasses is sourced from the Millaquin Mill in Bundaberg and is scheduled for release next February.

Cavu co-founder Michael Conrad said that by working with organic sugarcane, they can produce a “better product”.

“Organic produce means that there has been care for the product during the whole process,” Mr Conrad said.

Stillage, or dunder, is the non-alcoholic liquid left in a pot after the run of molasses, it contains dead yeast cells that work as excellent animal nutrition.
 Stillage, or dunder, is the non-alcoholic liquid left in a pot after the run of molasses, it contains dead yeast cells that work as excellent animal

“Everything is done to take care of the product and show it off in its best light.”

“If you take the best possible product, being organic molasses over an industrial version, and apply the same love and care you’re going to have a better product and the end of the day.”

Paddock to pint, back to paddock

Mr Conrad the decision to work with sugarcane was a natural one for the company.

“It’s our ethos to work with local produce and Queensland is one of the top ten sugar producers in the world,” Mr Conrad said.

“These two projects give us a chance to work with local producers to create something unique and exciting.”

Mr Conrad, who has six decades of fine dining experience, said that where they can the company will minimise waste.

Molasses from the organic rum is being put back into agriculture, providing their mineral rich stillage as “top shelf” cattle feed.

“I’ve always been a big believer of nose to tail, and we try and apply that to waste,” he said.

“Weather it’s into fertilizer or into cattle feed, the waste can be put back into the paddocks to create a happy circle of supply.”

Stillage, or dunder, is the non-alcoholic liquid left in a pot after the run of molasses, it contains dead yeast cells that work as excellent animal nutrition.

Wilmar Sugar Australia postpones Invicta Centenary community celebrations

Wilmar Sugar Australia has postponed its Invicta Centenary community celebrations this Friday due to the ongoing uncertainty around COVID-19.

Burdekin Regional Operations manager Paul Turnbull said the decision to defer the community celebrations until later in the year was not made lightly.

“We’re all very disappointed that we can’t celebrate the milestone with the Giru community next week but our number one priority must be to protect the health and safety of our people,” Mr Turnbull said.

“As the Burdekin’s largest sugar mill, we have a responsibility to the region’s entire sugar industry to do what we can to mitigate against potential risks to our operations.

“When we started our planning more than a year ago, we had hoped that we would not still be dealing with COVID outbreaks and lockdowns by this time.

“As much as we were looking forward to the celebrations, our core business is crushing cane and we can’t jeopardise that.”

Mr Turnbull said Invicta’s 100th birthday would still be celebrated next week, albeit more quietly than originally planned, with a centenary lunch for employees on Thursday, August 12.

The community celebrations have been postponed until October.

Sugar giant charged with industrial manslaughter after worker electrocuted in Far North Queensland

Charges have been laid against one of the country’s biggest sugar millers after a worker was electrocuted on the job in Far North Queensland two years ago.

Brett Quinn was killed while dogging for a crane that contacted, or came in close proximity to, overhead power lines while working on a cane rail system at Little Mulgrave, near Gordonvale, south of Cairns in 2019. 

In a statement, Workplace Health and Safety Prosecutor Aaron Guilfoyle said he had charged MSF Sugar Pty Ltd with industrial manslaughter under the Electrical Safety Act over the incident.

It’s the first time a company has faced such a charge since the act was introduced four years ago.

The maximum penalty carries a $10 million fine.

MSF has also been charged with breaching an electrical safety duty and exposing multiple workers to a risk of serious injury or death over the same incident — a charge that carries a maximum penalty of a fine of $1.5 million.

The small community of Gordonvale, where Mr Quinn lived, was left reeling after the incident.

He was a second-generation worker for MSF.

A fundraising page set up shortly after his death described him as a “hard worker with a fondness for a good joke”.

Union welcomes charge

MSF Sugar declined to comment given the matter was before the courts.

However, the union representing electrical workers has welcomed the industrial manslaughter charge.

Electrical Trades Union far northern organiser Robert Hill said the charge should send a message to all employers, particularly those in agriculture.

“Unfortunately, workers keep getting hurt and not returning home from work so we fully support the department’s prosecution and if people are found to be wanting, they deserve to be prosecuted through the full strength of the law,” Mr Hill said.

He said the agricultural industry saw more electrical incidents than any other sector in any given year.

“The agriculture sector is a huge concern to those in the electrical industry, given the number of incidences and we really need to keep that front of mind,” he said.”We are hoping the industry changes and takes it seriously because too many workers are being hurt.”

The matter will be mentioned at the Cairns Magistrates Court next month.

No other charges are expected to be laid over the incident.